Thursday, 15 December 2011

EASO Inaugural Consultative Forum: Preliminary Thoughts

"We're here, tell us how to support you!"  This was the civil society's battle-cry today at EASO's first Consultative Forum meeting, a repeated appeal to EASO by all present to establish the most effective structure within which to share expertise and experiences.  All meeting documents can be found on the specific site, here.

It was long and quite intense day, and we took pages of notes to make sure we can give you a proper insight into the discussions held and the main points raised.  In the coming days, we'll be gathering this info and posting more detailed information on today's meeting.

For now, we'll limiting ourselves to a couple of general comments:

 - Where were the NGOs?  A quick glance round the room told us what the participants list confirmed: there simply weren't too many NGOs.  We'll upload the participants list in the coming days, but for now we can say that the number of NGO representatives was very low.  A number of reasons can be proposed for this.  The application procedure was not quite advertised by EASO, and the lack of reimbursements for a meeting on a Mediterranean island probably dissuaded several NGOs from attending.  Is it also possible that the NGO community lacks trust in the Office and simply didn't seen the use or worth of this meeting?  

All are possible, and we imagine many other reasons could be relevant.  Yet our one message to the NGO community is that EASO simply cannot, and should not, be ignored.  As the EU's asylum agency, EASO will plan an increasingly strong role in the shape of asylum in the EU.  It will be involved in training the national asylum authorities, in formulating COI principles and methodologies, gathering national asylum data and information, engaging with third countries.  In this context, active participation in the Forum is crucial if we want to ensure that EASO does not become the extended arm of the MS.  So, if you haven't yet done it, send your application to EASO and join the dialogue now!

 - A key point that was reiterated throughout the day was that in any consultation process, timing is of essence.  This means that for any consultation process to be effective, it must be engaged in a manner that allows it to have a concrete and visible impact on the issues being consulted on.  In practice, this means that EASO's Consultative Forum should be given the opportunity to provide expert input on documents (the annual report, the annual work plan, etc.) before these are finalised and not when important management and policy decisions have already been taken.  

We welcome Dr. Visser's comments that the Consultative Forum is not one meeting, but rather an on-going process.  We suggest that this means switching the Forum's focus from the annual meeting to a more regular dialogue that is engage with at key points of EASO's processes (e.g. the formulation of questionnaire's to be sent to EU MS for the annual report, discussion on priorities for the annual work plan, creation of new EAC modules, etc.).  This is EASO's true challenge with the Forum, one we hope the Executive Director will live up to.

 - In its various forms, access to information was repeatedly highlighted as another core element of effective consultation.  An active Forum, asked to provide input on various EASO activities, needs to have an adequate understanding of the Office's workings, challenges, effectiveness, targets, measures, etc. 

 - The four workshops were chaired by four experts in the field of asylum.  Towards the end of the day they all gave excellent summaries of the difficult and technical discussions held in the workshops.  A number of us noticed that all four chairpersons were men, resulting in the last session being essentially five men (four chairpersons and Dr. Visser) sharing views and insights.  This is clearly no criticism of their performance, which was excellent, but of the purely symbolic power of such gestures.  EASO has already received input on the need for EASO to do its utmost to promote a gender-sensitive approach to asylum.  We also take this matter quite seriously (see our related activities), and would really like to appeal to EASO to adopt a more inclusive approach in its work, including in something so apparently insignificant as panel speakers.

As mentioned above, in the coming days we'll be posting more detailed information on the discussions held today.

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